An Anasazi Story by Jeff Posey.
The perfect gathering of men, two times the six directions, sat knee-to-knee in the round room, a glowing fire in the center. Twelve groups of twelve attendants camped in a ring around the underground room, eyeing each other, waiting for the first to break protocol and begin the exchange of news and gossip. The twelve largest villages in the six directions, each without its leader and top twelve men, were themselves surrounded by small clan villages of farmers. The younger farmers, especially, resented the tribute they paid of more than half their crops. Nothing particularly good happened when they delivered their contributions, but if they should fail to satisfy the High Priest, they suffered punishment more horrible than anything in their long tradition — entire villages destroyed by crazed warriors.
Like their attendants above ground, the council of twelve sat in silence, waiting for the first man to speak. No chief ruled them. No administrator cajoled them. No servants waited on them.
“I have a matter,” said one. All eyes went to the man, Sumtovi, chief of the Village of Dark Stone, the closest to Totec Canyon, the center of their world. “In the Great House of our High Priest, the woman he calls his Goddess of the Future and an albino healer woman advise him behind our backs. We must do something.”
“What do you propose?” asked another elder.
“We need a spy who will tell us what these women are doing and if they are misleading our High Priest,” said Sumtovi.
The men of the council agreed having more information made sense. One of them spoke a question. “What do we do if we discover they are evil of heart and are working to undermine our High Priest? And what do we do if they are good for him?”
Another elder from the village farthest to the south said, “If they are good, we should bring them to the council and find out what they know. If they are evil, we must make them into woman corn and feed them to our enemies.”
“Who do you propose for our spy?” another elder asked Sumtovi.
“I have a grandson who is as fleet of mind as he is of foot. We shall send him.”
They agreed without dissent and the council became once again quiet as they waited for the next man to speak.
Days later, when Sumtovi’s grandson left the Village of Dark Stone to spy on the High Priest, a stranger followed, the youngest son of a farmer whose entire village had been eliminated for failing to deliver enough corn.
In the middle of the moonless night, the farmer boy captured, tortured, and interrogated Sumtovi’s grandson and his two attendants. He took the better clothes of the grandson and left their bodies in an abandoned badger hole. He told the guards at the Great House that bandits had killed his servants and that he had barely escaped with his life.
The High Priest sent a runner escorted by warriors to Sumtovi, who verified that he’d sent his grandson on behalf of the council to sit for a time in the High Priest’s court.
“I see you,” the Goddess of the Future told the farmer boy, and described what had happened to his village. He burst into tears and the albino woman held him like a baby.
When Sumtovi sent a runner for a report from his grandson, the farmer boy refused to meet him, but sent a message that Sumtovi and the council had nothing to fear from the Goddess of the Future and the albino healer.
# # #
When I lose my vision or get bogged down in my novel-in-progress, I write FridayFlash scenes to try and gain clarity (that’s why I have as many as a dozen of these prepared at any given time). This is just such an exercise. Next week, I explore a different scenario for Sumtovi, a new character.
I’m also toying with tone and POV here. This is a highly impersonal tone, almost distractedly removed from the characters (except, perhaps, when the farmer boy breaks into tears and Nuva comforts him). Is it too distant?